Oregon football has been known for one thing over the years: explosive offense. The Ducks have some defensive pieces that are trying to change that this season.
While the Ducks always seem to have an exciting offense, the defense is shaping up to be one of the best in school history with arguably the top player in the nation along the line and one of the best linebacking units in the country.
Don’t forget the defensive backfield which is led by some all-conference candidates, but one guy who doesn’t get enough attention for his solid play is Verone McKinley III.
The sophomore safety had a career year in 2019 and followed that up with an equally productive 2020 season despite playing in half the games. He could be one of the best safeties in the Pac-12 this season and I think he could quietly piece together an all-conference campaign.
McKinley III’s instincts also set him apart. This fumble recovery still blows me away:
Instead of diving for the ball and fighting a stronger offensive lineman for a 50/50 bounce, he taps it away from the UCLA player in the direction of his momentum and in an area only he can get it, and takes it 35 yards to the red zone before getting tackled.
Not many defensive backs can make that decision to tap a fumble into the open field so it can be picked up and ran back, but McKinley’s instincts kicked in and showed what kind of football IQ he has. That play may never get enough credit for being wildly instinctive and heads-up.
Those are the types of plays that are going to make him an All-Pac-12 player in 2021.
McKinley is ready to lead a special Oregon football defense
Oregon’s defense is loaded at every position heading into the 2021 season from the defensive line to linebacker to the defensive backfield.
McKinley will be one of the leaders after playing in 20 games over his first two seasons, recording 92 total tackles, a tackle for loss, five interceptions, and four pass break-ups. Plus we can’t forget that instinctive fumble recovery which still blows my mind.
The defensive backfield could have multiple All-Pac-12 players with Steve Stephens IV getting some recognition as well as Mykael Wright who might just be the conference’s top cornerback. And I’m not ready to sleep on Dontae Manning who is one of my breakout candidates. The linebacking corps has Mase Funa, Noah Sewell, and Justin Flowe who could all be some of the best in the conference and the line has Heisman candidate and All-American Kayvon Thibodeaux.
This defense is going to cause some problems for the rest of the Pac-12 in 2021.